Jeimer Candelario was a 23-year-old rookie who had just been traded to the Tigers when he had his first brush with a no-hitter on Sept. 17, 2017. He was Detroit’s starting third baseman when Matthew Boyd took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning against the White Sox before Tim Anderson ended it with a two-out double to right. So Candelario knew the importance of a defensive gem.
As he watched Spencer Turnbull pile up outs Tuesday against the Mariners, all he could think about from third base was to be ready.
With nine outs to go, the play found him. Mitch Haniger’s grounder was hit hard enough that Candelario couldn’t think about it. All he could do was react, and all Turnbull could do was watch.
“That ball was hit so hard, I didn’t have time to think,” Turnbull said with a laugh. “It was already in Candy’s glove. That was kind of one of those moments.”
Every no-hitter seems to have one of those, that defensive gem that carries the game through. Sometimes they happen early, before anyone is thinking about a no-hitter. But by the time Haniger turned on Turnbull’s 2-1 fastball in the seventh, the chance at history was already on everybody’s mind.
Though Turnbull pounded the strike zone with fastballs and sliders, the Mariners rarely tested him early. Kyle Seager’s fly ball down the right-field line sent Nomar Mazara running it down in the corner to end the first inning. Haniger’s 392-foot fly ball to center sent rookie outfielder Akil Baddoo to the warning track.
Other than that, Turnbull cruised through six innings with a steady combination of relatively routine grounders and strikeouts. Haniger’s third at-bat threatened to change things.
According to Statcast, Haniger’s flyout and groundout were the only two Mariners balls in play with an expected batting average over .400. The grounder was the hardest-hit ball by either side all night, with an exit velocity of 108.4 mph. It was a test for Candelario, arguably the steadiest Tigers infielder this year but still negative-1 in Outs Above Average.
“I just knew I hit it hard and I was hoping it got by him,” Haniger said.
Candelario lunged towards the line and snagged it on a hop, gathered and threw across the infield to first for the out.
“Fantastic play,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, “and in most no-hitters there’s one or two of those plays.”
It brought back flashbacks for Turnbull, who as a freshman at the University of Alabama threw seven hitless innings against South Carolina on April 27, 2014 before the game was suspended by lightning. He remembers Christian Walker, now the D-backs’ first baseman, hitting a couple such balls.
As he watched Candelario throw to Miguel Cabrera to complete the out, Turnbull breathed a sigh of relief.
“That was the kind of moment,” he said, “when I was like, ‘Alright, I think this is my night. I’m just going to keep going and hopefully I can finish it.”
Turnbull finished it out. And Candelario, who says he had never been part of a no-hitter, could join the celebration.
“He gave me a hug,” Candelario said, “and told me that was a nice play. It was a special moment for me and for him.”